San Francisco, CA
7/26/17 & 7/27/17
For those of us that may not have much skill swinging a bat or summiting mountains, we have always been able to take solace in another national pastime: watching terrible movies with our friends.
In essence, this is what Mystery Science Theater 3000 has captured since it first hit airwaves back in 1988. In the years since, janitor Joel Robinson has given way to Mike Nelson, who has now in turn yielded his seat on the Satellite of Love to Nerdist podcast co-host Jonah Ray. Fresh from a Kickstarter-aided eleventh season that hit Netflix in April, Ray (who goes by the surname Heston on the show) and his robot pals are now in the midst of a North American tour.
Broken into two evenings of original content, the live show features Heston and sidekicks Tom Servo, Crow T. Robot, and Gypsy as they are forced to endure atrocious films selected by the evil Kinga and her henchman, TV’s Son of TV’s Frank (Felicia Day and Patton Oswalt, respectively, represented via pre-recorded footage). The first night offered Eegah, a film first skewered by the original MST3K cast back in 1993. Featuring a father and daughter taken hostage by an anachronistic cave man, the episode featuring Eegah spawned the MST3K catchphrase “watch out for snakes.” Clearly not concerned about any risk of overkill, the quote was taken to absurd new heights during the show, as any reference to it would prompt cast members to shoot snake guns into the crowd.
While creator Joel Hodgson was on-hand to lead a brief Q&A before each night, the star of the show was Ray, who has seamlessly ingratiated himself into the cult classic series’s lore. As with the new Netflix release, the format found Ray, Servo and Crow silhouetted against a movie screen. However, the recipe has now been imbued with some fresh laughs as modern targets like Fleet Foxes, alt-right haircuts and Groupon were mixed in with more timeless cracks about endless transition sequences and atrocious acting. The audience was also afforded some needed relief from the disasters unfolding on-screen with periodic live-action segments featuring the cast promoting inventions inspired by the film and other short skits.
The second night—billed as a “secret surprise movie”—did not disappoint. While it wouldn’t be appropriate to spoil the title, suffice to say that this film is an epic stinker. Never-before featured on MST3K, this pseudo super hero overdubbed mess was somehow even worse than Eegah, making it all the better for Ray and company to lovingly tear it apart. At a moment where across the country a vote on healthcare had many paying rapt attention to C-SPAN for the first time in their lives, it was a welcome respite to escape reality for a few wonderful hours and instead live in the twisted galactic world of Hodgson’s mind.
Credit must also be given to the stage design that went into this production, which not only cleverly made it possible for Tom Servo and the other robots to quickly dash from the stage to their “seats” and back again, but also found ways to seamlessly weave in Day and Oswalt’s pre-taped footage. The timing of lines, the use of props, and—most importantly—the playful but poisonous barbs lobbed at the night’s feature films all worked to manifest an atmosphere befitting of the beloved program that birthed the idea of riffing on movies while simultaneously bringing these forgotten “works” back into the public sphere.
While it would obviously be ideal if we no longer needed a distraction from today’s turmoil, as long as relief is required, one is certain to find it wherever Jonah, Tom Servo and Crow are headed next.